Early Career Psychologist Column

Work-life balance

Tips to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

By Adriana Falco, PhD, and Diann Gaalema, PhD

It is getting to be the time of year when days are getting shorter. You might feel like you have less time to cram all that work in. Or, maybe you are starting to settle into that new position and the weight of it is bearing down on you. Many ECPs struggle with finding the right work-life balance to help them be both successful and reduce their stress levels. These are some tips I keep coming back to as of late to help balance an increasing work load.

  1. Make a list. What has to be done right now and what can wait (a few days, or a week)? This helps me prioritize and be efficient, which in the end helps reduce my stress. Plus, the act of checking a task off your list feels really good.
  2. Don't ignore your lifestyle choices. I know it is really tempting to work 10 or 12 hours some days, and then come home and eat a frozen pizza. This is a horrible idea for your long-term work satisfaction (not to mention health). Make sure to make healthy eating choices that work for you. Don't have time to cook? Try some healthy slow cooker recipes. Get your seven-to-eight hours of sleep each night so you are clear and alert at work each day. And, get some exercise. Getting the blood flowing each day will facilitate clear thinking as well as be good for your physical health.
  3. Master the art of saying “no.” I know that many of us are in a place where we feel that we have to take every opportunity that comes by. Sometimes doing that only makes us feel overworked and so stressed that we can't perform to our peak anyway. Before taking on an activity, make sure it's going to be a good use of your time, something you can deal with quickly, or rewarding. It's OK to turn down the invite to do a peer review from time to time if you normally accept them, say no to one committee if you're on others or shut your office door from time to time if you're normally available to your students. The Mayo Clinic has some advice for how and why to say to “no” to people.
  4. Give yourself some “off” time every day. Do something completely for yourself every day. This needs to be time where you're not tending to someone else and can shut down. I know that's really hard for those of us who are balancing career and family, but find a way to do this, even for 15 minutes. Maybe your time spent together as a family can be your “off” time, maybe you need to exercise, walk the dog or read a trashy romance novel. Just find what works for you and try to carve out some time to do this, or these, activities each day if you can. Some of us will find more flexibility here, some may have to work harder to find this time, but mental rejuvenation is important.

I know that I have to constantly keep reminding myself to balance my work load. I know I'm not alone. I hope the reminder comes in helpful as many of us continually struggle with this balance.